| NEW YORK, July 20
NEW YORK, July 20 A pro-Israel group must be
allowed to place a paid advertisement on New York City public
buses that equates jihadists with savages, a U.S. judge ruled on
The opinion by U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in
Manhattan said a 1997 rule by the Metropolitan Transportation
Authority that barred demeaning language in advertisements was a
violation of free speech.
While the rule was well intentioned, the judge found, it had
the effect of discriminating against certain advertisers based
on the content of their proposed message.
The advocacy group American Freedom Defense Initiative sued
the MTA in September 2011 after the transit agency denied its
The ad said: "In any war between the civilized man and the
savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel/Defeat Jihad."
The ad would have been posted on 318 city buses for four weeks,
at a cost of about $25,000, the opinion said.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative, based in Sherman
Oaks, California, has been one of the most vocal opponents to
the planned construction of a mosque and Islamic center near
Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.
The group says the prayer center is funded by Islamists and
would sully the memory of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack victims.
"This is a great victory for the First Amendment," the group
said on its website.
"Disallowing a pro-Israel ad was clearly a politically
correct, politically motivated denial of free speech," said
Pamela Geller, the group's executive director.
The MTA said in a statement that it was reviewing the
opinion and "is evaluating its existing advertising standards in
light of the court's ruling."
The judge said the advertising space on public buses should
be considered a public forum. The judge also ruled that because
the ad in question was political speech, it was entitled to the
"highest level of protection under the First Amendment."
"By differentiating between which people or groups can and
cannot be demeaned on the exterior of a city bus, MTA's
no-demeaning standard ... discriminates based on content," the
The judge said his preliminary injunction would take effect
in 30 days, at which time the MTA would be prevented from
enforcing the standard.
The standard bars any ads that "contain ... information that
demean(s) an individual or group of individuals on account of
race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, age,
disability or sexual orientation."
While MTA officials had been correct to regard the ad as
"demeaning a group of people based on religion (Islam)," the
standard itself does allow for demeaning statements on a host of
other topics, such as where they live, their job or their
political affiliation, the judge said.
(Editing by Martha Graybow and Todd Eastham)